COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Cell phones continue to be a major problem for Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling and his staff.
Phones smuggled in or thrown over fences - and often used for the furthering criminal activity. Stopping them has been a struggle for years and that struggle isn't getting any easier.
At the South Carolina Department of Corrections headquarters in Columbia, a stunning and often chilling testimony to the innovation and brutality of life inside prisons.
Huge quantities of drugs, deadly weapons made of every kind of scrap metal, dozens of cell phones, and ven a form of body armor, crafted by an inmate from plastic bags. Many of these items smuggled or thrown into prisons from people on the outside.
"It's a war," Stirling said. "It's not just in South Carolina, it's all across the country. Because of illegal cell phones, they're able to coordinate a lot better in getting contraband in and smuggling it in."
On Sunday, corrections officers working with the Richland County Sheriff's Department spotted and managed to capture two suspects attempting to throw contraband into the Broad River Correctional Institution.
Phones, drugs, tobacco, saw blades, iPads, and even undergarments.
Stirling says the alliance with the county helped in that case, and similar partnerships in other parts of the state are paying off.
"Some of them we have agreements because it was just such a problem," Stirling said. "We have the rovers out there, but the rover can only do so much. So I asked to partner with local law enforcement across the state to help us make our prisons more secure and we saw the fruits of that on Sunday evening."
A couple of recent developments that could help. Stirling says wooded areas like some close to prison fences here are being cut back to eliminate cover for people trying to sneak up and toss things over the fences.
We've reported on the proposal to install netting above the fences, making it far more difficult to throw contraband over.
And the director says he's hoping the Trump administration will look more favorably on a long-standing effort to get federal approval for cell phone jamming technology that would render useless any phones that do make it through.